Kevin Artigue's drama Sheepdog is a thought-provoking two-character play that focuses on the impact that the shooting of a young Black man by a white policeman has on a pair of police officers who are in a relationship. She's Black and he's white, and the play brings up the various ethical, racial, and moral issues of the incident and how it impacts their relationship.
Stray Cat Theatre presents the Arizona premiere in a well-acted and smartly directed production.
Artigue presents interesting characters, compelling events, and a few plot twists that help ratchet up the intensity. He's also written a topical piece that, while the main incident involves police violence against African Americans, also focuses on the responsibilities Amina and Ryan have as police officers, the differences they have and struggles they encounter since she's Black and he's white, and not just on the overt racism with some police officers we've heard so much about since Floyd's murder. In doing so, it effectively presents various sides and views of the violent act and doesn't just paint the two in black and white but in shades of grey. That brings a realism to the play while also providing much to talk about and discuss about after it's over.
As Amina, Shonda Royall makes an impressive Stray Cat debut in a performance composed of strength, realism, empathy and integrity. Royall is on stage for the entire length of the play and she finds a beautiful connection to the audience through her strong, clear, expressive narration and her ability to naturally show Amina's determination to find the truth even if it will come at a cost to her. Amina, like Ryan, has some flaws, and Royall's performance allows us to clearly see them, warts and all. Royall's striking performance of this interesting woman is one you'll remember.
Devon Mahon is very good as Ryan. Mahon beautifully depicts a wide range of emotions and feelings, from the tenderness he shows in the early stages of his relationship with Amina to the moments of assuredness that turn to self-doubt around the shooting incident. As more details are revealed, Mahon's displays of Ryan's downward emotional spiral, confusion, pain and weakness are very realistic.
Director Louis Farber has done an excellent job with his brisk pacing and clear staging to keep the tension taut and the forward trajectory of the play never faulting. While the set design by Tiana Torrilhon-Wood is visually interesting, only using the colors of black and white in the design seems to be something too obvious for a play that centers on racial issues. The costumes by Maci Hosler depict Amina and Ryan in the same civilian clothes throughout the play. While I believe the idea not to have them dressed in police uniforms does make them look less imposing, the choice of clothing is somewhat odd in that it makes them both look disheveled and even somewhat uncomfortable. Dallas Robert Nichols' lighting works extremely well to depict the various shifts in time and place, and his brief video projection adds a nice visual element to the play.
While it's unfortunate this play didn't have as large of an impact on me as I believe it would have before George Floyd's murder, it is still an impressive, intriguing, and powerful piece.